A Record Low for Teen Birth Rates

New research released today from the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the teen birth rate for 2009 hit a record low. According to the study, the birth rate among U.S. girls aged 15 to 19 fell to 39.1 births per 1,000 teens in 2009, a 6 percent drop from 2008 and the lowest rate ever recorded in the approximately 70 years that the federal government has been collecting this data.

Most of the experts who have spoken about this consider the economic recession to be the main culprit in the reduction of teen birth rates. Some advocates are a bit skeptical because teens are not usually working full-time or primary family breadwinners, so aren’t directly feeling the financial strain as much as a woman in her 20’s and 30’s. The explanation is that their actions are reflective of the financial stress of the older women around them. Rates for women in their early 20’s fell 7 percent, the largest decline since 1973 for this group, while rates for women in their late 20’s and 30’s also decreased. Conversely, birth rates for women in their 40’s increased.

The abstinence-only advocates see this an an opportunity to tout the success of ab-only miseducation programs. They feel that the reduction in teen birth rates means that teens are not having sex. However, other youth advocates point to the increased and improved use of contraceptives as a reason for the low teen birth rates. Preliminary data seems to support this assertion.

“We certainly don’t want recession to be the most effective form of birth control in the U.S.,” said James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth. “We stil need structural reforms in sex education, contraceptive access and pragmatic public policies to ensure a long-term decline in the teen birth rate–during good economic times as well as bad.”

I’m interested to know how abortion is reflected in these outcomes. We know that less teens are having births but what does this mean about pregnancy rates? That information can give advocates a clearer picture of what’s happening in teens’ sexual lives. No matter what the data says about pregnancy or abortion rates, it’s clear that young people are still having sex and that comprehensive education is our best tool in ensuring healthy and informed teens and young people. Ignorance should not be promoted as birth control.

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